When a medical professional or treatment provider makes a mistake, should they admit it to the patient or just hope that they are never found out?

Regulation 20 of the Health and Social Care Act* states that care providers must act with openness and transparency in the event of a serious incident. This is known as the ‘Duty of Candour’ and the Regulation came into force in November 2014 for NHS bodies and April 2015 for all other organisations.

The information provided to the patient or their family should include an account of all the facts known about the incident and confirmation as to what will happen next. The family should be kept informed of any investigation and its outcome, which should be followed up in writing and include an apology.

Most hospital trusts fully comply with this duty but in September 2020, in the first case of its kind, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) prosecuted a Trust that failed miserably to adhere to the Regulations.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust was ordered at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court to pay a total of £12,565 after admitting it failed to disclose details relating to a surgical procedure or to apologise, following the death of a 91-year-old woman.

The CQC brought the prosecution after it emerged that the trust failed to share details of what happened to Elsie Woodfield prior to her death at Derriford Hospital, in Plymouth, following an unsuccessful endoscopy procedure. The trust also failed to apologise to Mrs Woodfield’s family within a reasonable timeframe.

Mrs Woodfield suffered a perforated oesophagus during an endoscopy in December 2017. As a result, the procedure was abandoned and Mrs Woodfield was transferred to the hospital’s Marlborough Ward for observations. While there she collapsed and later died.

Following the operation, it was found that the trust had not communicated what had happened with Mrs Woodfield’s family in an open and transparent way, nor had it apologised for what had happened to her in a timely manner.

This is a welcome decision as it is vital that all care providers are open and transparent. Poor Mrs Woodfield’s family were never afforded that courtesy and let us hope that the case serves as a timely reminder for others to abide by their Duty of Candour.

* Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014

CAPTION: Claire Kirwan, Partner and Head of the Clinical Negligence Department

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